Scientific reports

Massage-like stroking boosts the immune system in mice.

PMID 26046935


Recent clinical evidence suggests that the therapeutic effect of massage involves the immune system and that this can be exploited as an adjunct therapy together with standard drug-based approaches. In this study, we investigated the mechanisms behind these effects exploring the immunomodulatory function of stroking as a surrogate of massage-like therapy in mice. C57/BL6 mice were stroked daily for 8 days either with a soft brush or directly with a gloved hand and then analysed for differences in their immune repertoire compared to control non-stroked mice. Our results show that hand- but not brush-stroked mice demonstrated a significant increase in thymic and splenic T cell number (p < 0.05; p < 0.01). These effects were not associated with significant changes in CD4/CD8 lineage commitment or activation profile. The boosting effects on T cell repertoire of massage-like therapy were associated with a decreased noradrenergic innervation of lymphoid organs and counteracted the immunosuppressive effect of hydrocortisone in vivo. Together our results in mice support the hypothesis that massage-like therapies might be of therapeutic value in the treatment of immunodeficiencies and related disorders and suggest a reduction of the inhibitory noradrenergic tone in lymphoid organs as one of the possible explanations for their immunomodulatory function.